Ian, Grognard and Eddy get together to create what might be Manchester United’s greatest freekicks since the inception of The Premier League. Where does your favourite rank?
10. Gary Pallister. May 1993 vs Blackburn @ Old Trafford.
What can you say about this? I wasn’t going to place this one on the list because I couldn’t find a video of it but Ian came through in his search (Thanks mate). Not the most skilful of kicks but I love it because in the penultimate game of the 93 season and the last game of the season at Old Trafford for United. Up to that point, every United player on the team other than our keepers had scored a goal except one man. Despite being a rock of Gibraltar for us as a defender all year Gary Pallister had a large goose egg under goals. With United up 2-1 and going into injury time, Bryan Robson is fouled just outside the box. So who comes up to make the free kick but the most unlikely of takers, goalless Pally. What I love about the kick is that it was a well placed low worm killer and it was heroic drive culminating in an enormous emotional outburst from Pallister, his team-mates and Fergie as well. It was just a great moment in a fairly meaningless match, as we had clinched the title well before that.
9. David Beckham. April 2003 vs Real Madrid @ Old Trafford.
This one is dear to me. It meant little as Madrid had already pretty well knocked us out with Brazilian Ronaldo’s dazzling three away goal display in the first half but it culminated in a furious comeback for the club to at least salvage some pride by coming back from 1-3 at home to win the match 4-3 but lose out on aggregate. The comeback was really launched by Beckham who curiously started the match on the bench due to being in Fergie’s doghouse after the infamous Fergie boot kicking incident that made the news. Becks was upset and proud and when he came into the game he immediately responded with a goal mouth scramble of a goal, and culminated it with this wonderful Beckhamesque free kick of a wonder goal. I love it because I am a die hard Beckham fan and supporter and to this day I still believe Fergie was wrong in his treatment of the lad in those final days. I was so happy to see the player show his pride and his love for the club by coming in and snatching us victory and both him and the club some pride which had vanished due to Madrid’s outstanding performance up to that point.
8. Dennis Irwin. January 1994vs Liverpool @ Anfield.
This one happened in one of the most epic away clashes ever. It happened against Liverpool in 1993 that has to go down as one our greatest and still most disappointing results ever against our bitter rivals. Thanks to this special effort by Dennis we took a shocking 3-0 lead at Anfield. It was truly a lights out performance in the second half only to have the scousers battle back to even the score at 3-3 at the end. Still, at the time we were comfortably in first while Liverpool were mired in 9th place but the free kick Dennis offered up was truly first class and it’s still hard to believe that a defender and a fullback yet, could have the kind of skill to deliver a free kick of this class.
7. Owen Hargreaves. April 2008 vs Arsenal @ Old Trafford.
This one is not just a touch of class but it comes from my fellow compatriot from Canada so it’s close to my heart. Hargreaves as we know was fighting his debilitating leg injuries and wasn’t a reliable regular during his stint with us but we all knew he had special skills. What many United fans didn’t know however, but I did because my love for Bayern Munich is that he was very adept at taking free kicks in a very Beckhamesque manner. This little gem was not just a beautiful finesse special with artistry written all over it. It was a vital home goal that gave us the victory late in the 2007/08 campaign, and basically wrote off Arsenal’s chances with four games left to play in the season. It was a late killer blow and it gave us some breathing room on our road to capturing the EPL title that season while marking another loss in what was a late season collapse by Arsenal who had led the league for most of the year. That certainly places an exclamation point after Hargo’s magic moment.
6. Eric Cantona. September 1993 vs Arsenal @ Old Trafford.
As the Motorhead song goes, “Bow down to the…bow down to the King”. And believe me, I do every night before I go to sleep. Eric Cantona was, is and forever will be my favourite United player and quite simply ‘The King’. But despite his greatness, he was not one who had too many free kick goals during his outstanding but short five year stint with United. But this classy effort from September of 1993 against rivals Arsenal was a cracker that left David Seaman helpless, United fans delirious and Fergie breathless. I love Fergie’s reaction to this goal as he was truly wowed by the moment. Most importantly, it was the only goal in a hard fought and very evenly played contest. What better way to beat a club like Arsenal than to beat them with a cannon from the King?
5. David Beckham. September 1998 vs Barcelona @ Old Trafford.
They don’t come much bigger than this. Beckham scores a memorable goal to temporarily give United the lead in the second of two group matches to be played that season against the hated Barcelona. Coincidentally both matches ended up as thrilling 3-3 draws but this goal was just of the finest quality and a true gem from Becks as he gave United the 3-2 lead at the Nou Camp only to have Luis Enrique tie the match on a controversial penalty decision. It was one of the earmark moments of our drive to the Treble that season and the goal was even more important as it was away from home under a very hostile environment. Does any goal scored by this lad better dictate or warrant the saying “Bend it like Beckham”?
4. Ronaldo. May 2009 vs Arsenal @ The Emirates.
I’ll be completely honest, this goal would be number one on my list if it were not for a Spanish muppet manning the posts for Arsenal. Manuel Almunia has never been a keeper I liked and his lack of quality was never more evident on this goal but still, one must still take nothing away from Ronny’s thunder striker, the position of the field from where he struck it and the sheer audacity to even attempt it. Most importantly, it was the second goal of an outstanding 3-1 away victory in the second leg of the 2009 Champions League semi-final vs the Gunners. For me this goal epitomized what Ronaldo was all about. He just refused to believe that he could not score even though the commentator believed there was no way he would even attempt it. Listen to the announcer’s reaction after he scored. Priceless.
6Cristiano Ronaldo Free Kick vs Arsenal by pantrak1
3. Ronaldo. February 2009 vs Blackburn @ Old Trafford.
What was I saying about Ronaldo’s sheer audacity before? Yet again he attempts a free kick that not only looked impossible due to the sharp angle, but was not even something most of the all time greats would even try to attempt. But there is no never in Ronaldo’s lexicon and try he did. The 60th minute of a tough and tight 1-1 contest against feisty Blackburn and we were all sitting and wondering if somebody was going to save our bacon in a game we needed to win in a late season home clash. Up steps Ronaldo with all the swagger and confidence of a matador and what he produces is a classic that would be on many people’s list as number one. But not mine. On mine it enters at a very respectable third place.
2. David Beckham. May 2003 vs Everton @ Goodison.
Boy I must say not placing this ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ special as the best United free kick of on this list was very difficult for me. It only speaks volumes for how great the number one kick on the list is. Quite simply this goal best defines the greatness of David Beckham at the task of free kick taking. This kick was to be his last goal for United in his last game, which also happened to be the final game of the 2002/03 season. It culminated in a 2-1 road victory over Everton but this goal came as we were losing 1-0 just before halftime. What makes this goal great is the drama of the moment. Beckham left with a bang and a memorable exit in Hollywood fashion with a spectacular free kick that for me defies physics. He is far to the right and all logic says he will try for the near corner. Physics and angle tell us that to try for the far corner from such a wide angle on the right for a right-footed player would be frankly impossible. Well Becks proved science and logic wrong with a bender that was absolutely mesmerizing and breathtakingly accurate. I still get goose bumps when I see the replay. What a goal and what a way to depart.
1. Ronaldo. January 2008 vs Portsmouth @ Old Trafford.
Yes it’s true, I love Ronaldo, but honestly despite his defection to Real Madrid, what’s not to love? The lad was just pure dynamite, a hurricane, a tsunami and probably the most skilled player of the past twenty years. His free kick gem vs Portsmouth in 2008 makes it to number one on my list because I have never seen anything like it from anyone ever. I spoke how Beckham’s goal defied logic and physics; well this one defies physics and gravity. It’s not as difficult a shot from it’s angle as it was straight on but the hit defies the laws of physics and gravity and aerodynamics in the manner of it’s flight path and velocity. Most free kicks tend to bend one way or the other. The nature of the ball and the angle of the foot on contact pretty much ensure a ball flies right or left. On occasion if hit properly it can fly right or left and dip or even rise but I have never seen a free kick hit straight that rose and then dipped like a a knuckleball pitch in baseball. The ball had no spin like a knuckleball pitch and so it was controlled by velocity and the air currents it was fighting. And what a wondrous strike it was. 28 Yards out and hit like a Howitzer it flew through the air and completely froze the Portsmouth keeper on the day David James. It made the score 2-0 United, which is how the game ended. Not the most important free kick ever taken or at the most opportune time but it was a vital goal in a tight contest nonetheless. But nothing can take away from the quality of the strike as it goes down as the finest free kick I have ever seen taken and believe me I have seen a lot in my 40 years of watching this fine game. It may not make your list at number one but it has to make the list nonetheless. For me it epitomizes power and audacity as well as imagination and unparalleled physical talent. Ronaldo and that kick are both one in a billion.
Well that’s the top ten list. Special thanks to Ian and RedDevilEddy for helping me compile the list and for finding and editing the videos to help you enjoy the article with. Hopefully you enjoyed it despite many of you probably having freekick’s you believe belong in the list. Both Ian created a bigger list while I determined who made it in the top 10 and in which order. I had to leave out several which we both felt were great and deserved high consideration. Apologies to Ryan Giggs for not including him in the top ten list as he’s had several great freekicks down the years as has Wayne Rooney. Juan Veron can feel aggrieved he’s missed out and we could probably make a top 10 of David Beckham’s all of his own (Man City away, West Ham away, Everton at home, Southampton and Leicester away to mention but a few).
With that in mind here’s a few examples of what we had to leave out to create the list. Perhaps one or more would make your list, you be the judge.
Yet more Ronaldo but lets face it, he took many free kicks during his six year tenure with the club, and many went in. Truly, as a club and as supporters we have been blessed with many players who have delivered the goods from free kick land over the years. And may the trend continue for decades and decades to come.
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Van, Ian & Eddy